We are growing too accustomed to emergencies and crises. The events that made up the news headlines of the last month would have been the main story of an entire year in other, more normal times. Such is the intensity of the era in which we live. While a pandemic rages, polarization grows more assertive, and political dysfunction has us trapped in a cycle of perpetuity on all these fronts, other significant issues are taking shape in the background. These are major geopolitical events and issues we need to be watching that could explode in the next thirty days. Keep these four global hot spots on your information awareness radars throughout September.
Less than a year ago, Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, initiated an invasion of Tigray, a northern province of Ethiopia. The early successes of the federal government’s invasion of Tigray soon faltered, and by June, Abiy withdrew Ethiopian troops from the occupation of Tigray under the cover of humanitarian concerns. If Abiy hoped that would end the consequences of his misstep in Tigray, he was mistaken. Instead, ethnic tensions throughout the country are at a boiling point, and an Ethiopian civil war appears imminent.
Reports of atrocities from both sides are circulating widely within and outside of Ethiopia. A recent report from Human Rights Watch says Ethiopia has imprisoned Tigrayan children. In August, a group identified as a terrorist organization announced its alliance with Tigray while Ethiopia’s federal government called on a massive military recruiting drive to prepare for a renewed conflict.
If Ethiopia descends into civil war, there is a high probability that the war will become a regional conflict. Ambassadors from Sudan and Ethiopia have already been recalled over a contested border dispute between the two countries. Eritrea actively engaged in the conflict of November 2020 on the side of Ethiopia’s federal government.
From a geopolitical perspective, Ethiopia is one of the hottest places in the world today and a definite area to watch throughout September.
According to the World Bank, Lebanon is nearing an economic collapse unparalleled to anything since the middle of the 19th century. Presently the nation’s government cannot form a functional coalition even to receive international aid and support desperately needed among the suffering population.
The country is enduring not only an unprecedented economic crisis but also widespread fuel shortages. Most homes and businesses receive only one hour of electricity a day in the nation once nicknamed “The Switzerland of the East.” The fuel shortages are leading to a collapse in the hospitals and healthcare systems while the coronavirus spreads. Water pumps have shut down, and a growing water crisis is spreading through the massive refugee population in Lebanon.
In Lebanon, the concern for the next 30 days is which crisis could topple the country first and will widespread resentment and desperation breakout into social unrest to expedite the nation’s collapse.
In February, Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected government in a coup. Since that time, a massive crackdown by the government against protesters and opposition groups has filled the country’s prisons and led to hundreds of deaths.
Myanmar is no stranger to oppressive tactics. In 2017 much of the world accused the government of Myanmar of carrying out a genocide against the Rohingya minority group. In recent weeks, the Child Rights Committee said that Myanmar’s military had arrested more than 1,000 children in an effort to lure parents who protested against the coup out of hiding.
As the post-coup oppression has intensified in recent weeks and months, the coronavirus has overwhelmed the South Asian nation. Accurate figures for infections and deaths by the pandemic are unavailable because government crackdowns have decimated the healthcare community of Myanmar. The United Nations warned at the beginning of last month that the coronavirus could infect half the population of Myanmar within weeks.
Watch the humanitarian situation in Myanmar during September as one of the top global hot spots.
When the month of August opened, the Taliban controlled zero provincial capitals within the country. By the end of the month, Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban, and the US ended its 20-year occupation of the country. While plenty of media attention was expended on the dramatic unraveling of Afghanistan last month, the worst is likely still to come.
The Taliban rose to power as an insurgency group. They have little successful history in governing a country. Afghanistan faces a host of economic issues as the spigots of international aid are turned off in an attempt by the global community to force the extremist group toward rational behavior. Foreign aid accounts for 40% of Afghanistan’s GDP, and that aid is no longer accessible.
The World Bank has frozen its aid to the country. The International Monetary Fund blocked access to $460 million in reserves for Afghanistan. The US has blocked access to around $7 billion in Afghanistan reserves held in the US.
Economic crises in Afghanistan do not mean unemployment and lost retirement funds. An economic crisis in Afghanistan means mass starvation and humanitarian disasters. Today food prices are skyrocketing, salaries are going unpaid, and banks are shut down. The World Food Program says 1 in 3 Afghan children are going hungry, and 2 million children may need urgent treatment. The UN Secretary-General said around 18 million people might need some form of aid simply to survive.
Meanwhile, the outside world is already calling. Russia decided to maintain a troop presence in Afghanistan, cozying up to the Taliban months before America’s retreat. The Chinese are also looking to normalize their relationship with the Taliban to access the massive mineral resources in Afghanistan’s soil. The Taliban began as a proxy force for Pakistan within Afghanistan to buffer Pakistan from its arch-rival India. Within hours after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an envoy from India was among the first international ambassadors to meet with the Taliban.
As the pressures of governing a poverty-stricken nation assaulted by a host of chaotic circumstances set in, watch for the Taliban to resort to their infamous hardline tactics against the weak and disenfranchised. The dangers of a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan are significant, and the involvement of outside powers could amplify the depths of that crisis.